The ozone is ravaged, ocean levels have risen, and the sun is a daily enemy. But global climate change is not something new in the Earth’s history.
No one will know this better than less-than-ordinary Owen Parker, who is about to discover that he is the descendant of a highly advanced ancient race—a race that took their technology too far and almost destroyed the Earth in the process.
Now it is Owen’s turn to make right in his world what went wrong thousands of years ago. If Owen can unlock the lost code in his very genes, he may rediscover the forgotten knowledge of his ancestry…and that less-than-ordinary can evolve into extraordinary.
-synopsis and cover art courtesy of goodreads
Atmospheric Analysis: Honestly, I’m just not a fan of this type of cover–featuring much-older-than YA models posed stiffly on it. It’s got nice embellishments and a decent shot of one of the underwater structures in the background, but these characters don’t look at all like Owen or Lilly to me.
Planetary Class: Post-apocalyptic science fantasy.
Viability Rating: Predicated on such scientifically implausible tropes as racial memory, the world presented in The Lost Code is not very viable.
Mohs Scale: Keeping the above in mind, I’d call The Lost Code a 1 on the Mohs scale–Science in genre only. It’s a science fantasy title, really, and the techyness is, in many ways, indistinguishable from magic. Of course, Mohs isn’t a marker of quality per se. The trappings of this world are pretty neat, even if they’re not Real Science.
Xenolinguisical Assessment: Emerson’s writing is the easy, accessible type with a broad potential appeal. Save for a few hot make-out scenes and curse words, the prose would just as easily appeal to middle grade readers as it would to fans of YA.
Expanded Report: In many ways, Kevin Emerson’s The Lost Code feels like a throwback to the slim YA science fiction novels of decades past. Told through the accessible, easy narration of Owen, it describes a picture of a typical suburban adolescent experience–a summer spent at summer camp–with a heavy science fiction twist. The Lost Code is set in the future, where mankind lives under Eden Domes, perfect paradises of weather and ecology, safe from the horrors of the ravaged world beyond. Owen has come from a human settlement to spent the summer living as suburban kids once did. That doesn’t mean his life is easy, however–he has to confront bullies, hormones, his own health problems, not to mention the gills he suddenly and inexplicably sprouts while underwater.
All of this sounds promising, and it’s made more so by the easy narration utilized by Emerson. In concept and prose, this is the sort of “boy book” that many librarians and teachers crave. It talks to teens on their level; it’s easily digestible and conceptually fun; it would make both a great beach and fit in well on the shelf of a reluctant reader.
But it simply doesn’t live up to all this promise. The first and most significant problem is that it’s just too long. Though the first chapter features Owen’s apparent death (gripping!), the subsequent hundred pages have no true conflict to speak of. Owen deals with a few cardboard cut-out bullies at camp, then falls in with another crowd of teenagers who have likewise sprouted gills. They swim. A lot. And trade conspiracy theories. And flirt and tease. But this was all described in extremely mild, even nostalgic terms. We’re told the stakes are high, but we never feel it. You never doubt for a second that Owen is going to beat the bullies, find people who appreciate him, or get the girl, and so it’s not a particularly interesting read.
When the more significant plot elements kick into gear, it feels too little, too late. Discussions of the ancient Atlantean mythos are particularly dull. Characters hash out and rehash their theories in thudding monotone. And the people having these conversations are mostly undeveloped. Though by the novel’s conclusion I’d begun to get some sense of Owen himself, even his love interest, Lilly, was fairly undercooked. I’d be a loss to tell you anything about her personality at all, only a few hours after finishing the novel.
It’s too bad–cut down by about half, to the length of Animorphs and other successful earlier series in this vein, I think The Lost Code could have been really fun, fluffy and entertaining. This isn’t the type of novel that would ever appeal to lit snob sci-fi fans, but it is evocative of the great commercial science fantasy that’s come before, from Barsoomian adventure stories to Flash Gordon to Star Wars. The problem is that all those serial stories were tightly paced and above all, riveting. The Lost Code instead meanders–when it really should fly.